The major scale is without a doubt the most commonly used scale in western music.

If you want to be a great musician, there’s no two ways about it: you need to understand the major scale.

Below I’ll explain the things you ought to know about the major scale.

What is the major scale and what does it sound like?

The major scale is a seven note scale. You can see it written in the key of C and also in the key of F below.

Click play on the mp3s below each diagram to listen to the C and F major scales.

The C Major Scale
The C Major Scale
The F Major Scale
The F Major Scale

How is the major scale constructed?

Every scale is defined by its intervallic structure – the intervals between the notes of the scale.

There are two easy ways to look at a scale’s intervallic structure. We can look at the intervals between each note and the note adjacent to it or the interval the separates each note from the tonic.

Intervals between adjacent notes

Each note is separated from the notes on either side by either a major second (aka tone) or a minor second (aka semitone). The pattern of major and minor seconds is: M2, M2, M2, m2, M2, M2, m2. Using tones and semitones it is: T, T, T, S, T, T, S.

You can see the intervals marked on the diagram below:

C Major Scale with Seconds

Intervals between the tonic and each note

The other way to analyse the intervallic structure of a scale is to look at the interval that separates each note from the tonic. In the major scale, each one of these is either a major interval or a perfect interval. So the second is a major second above the tonic, the third is a major third, the fourth is a perfect fourth, the fifth is a perfect fifth, the sixth is a major sixth and the seventh is a major seventh.

You can see these labelled on the diagram below:

C Major with Intervals from tonic

What is the major scale used for?

The notes of the major scale are the most commonly used notes for any song in a major key. Which means the major scale is at the centre of most music.

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